Ron Clarke dies at 78; famed Australian middle-distance runner

Australian middle-distance runner Ron Clarke, who set 17 world records and won Olympic bronze, has died at 78

Track and field lost one of its great middle-distance runners Wednesday with the death of Ron Clarke.

The Australian, who set 17 world records and won an Olympic bronze medal over the course of a lengthy career, died of kidney failure in Southport, Australia, according to Olympic officials. He was 78.

"Ron will forever be a legend of our sport," said David Grace, president of Australia's track and field association.

For all his athletic accomplishments, Clarke might be equally remembered as the young man who ignited the torch at the 1956 Melbourne Games.

Though not on the Australian team, he was selected for the honor as a top junior runner and got a surprise when his big moment came. Workers wanted to be sure the torch would burn brightly for the cameras, so they turned up the gas.

"They didn't tell me so when I lit it, the flame blew up in my face," he told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2000. "You can see it in the film how I get blown off the stool. The St Johns people bandaged me from fingertip to elbow because I had a few singed hairs on my arm."

Clarke finished third in the 10,000 meters at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and returned to the Games four years later in Mexico City, where he finished sixth, collapsing at the finish with altitude sickness.

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